Remembering the early days of Toliver Elementary
Published 9:24 am Tuesday, January 17, 2017
I began the first grade at Toliver (then Maple Avenue) in September 1936, when it was just a few years old. Ms. Toliver, the principal, stood about seven feet tall, rang the bell out a back window on the second floor for everyone to waste no time getting to class and enforced the rules corporally when necessary.
To see this old school (built like a fortress and with appropriate stately architecture) not only still in use but obviously to remain in use for a long time says a lot about how things were done during the Great Depression (25 percent unemployment in the mid-30s). I received a quality education there as well as a sense of right and wrong. I ate my homemade lunch in the cafeteria every day except on the ones when my mom volunteered to serve, when I got to buy lunch (mayonnaise-lettuce sandwiches were my favorite) … maybe it was free on that day.
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Listening to train whistles and dreaming of faraway places was a primary focus when I should have been better occupied in fifth grade. At this time of year, Perryville Street and Harding Street were covered with tobacco adjacent to the playground and my granddad picked up the leavings to make his own cigars and pipe/chewing tobacco. One ingredient I remember being molasses; I hate to think what else.
One year (fifth, I believe), I was forced to do the Maypole dance and (gasp) hold hands with a girl. In the sixth, I did an Indian dance in the small auditorium and, of course, “graduated” — a big deal. The music for the Maypole punishment was Melody in F by Rubenstein (also called Country Gardens, if memory serves).
Ms. Sallee (Ms. Toliver’s sister) was my first-grade teacher. I saw her exert discipline by just turning an offender over her knee for a good spanking, and I was smart enough never to cross her. But she was a good soul.
My best year was fourth grade, taught by Ms. Vaughan, and I remember all my teachers and their names at then-Maple Avenue. They and my seventh/eighth-grade teachers gave me a foundation so strong that I could skip the eleventh-grade. When I entered first grade, I had four older sisters ahead of me in a school system that had to be among the best.